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Published: 10/31/2005

Do the Lions look different? Not Mooch

Detroit coach Steve Mariucci has changed offensive coordinators and quarterbacks, but not the Lions' performance. Detroit coach Steve Mariucci has changed offensive coordinators and quarterbacks, but not the Lions' performance.
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DETROIT - Allegedly, the Detroit Lions had already reached rock bottom.

But on second thought, apparently not.

So what's lower than rock-bottom? Because that's where the Lions reside after yesterday's 19-13 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears at Ford Field.

Coach Steve Mariucci supposedly rooted out the problem for everything ailing the Lions when he made a quarterback change as transparent as his predictable play-calling.

So how come Jeff Garcia lost yesterday's game with a boneheaded interception that would have resulted in Joey Harrington requiring a police escort to escape the wrath of hostile fans had he made the throw?

"I know from experience not to throw the ball across the field. I shouldn't have let it go, but I did," said Garcia, who watched helplessly as defensive back Charles Tillman sprinted 22 yards for the winning touchdown.

Both Mariucci and Garcia admitted later that Garcia hasn't fully recovered from the broken fibula he suffered in the final preseason game, that he's still experiencing pain.

Nevertheless, Mariucci started Garcia against Cleveland a week ago because he believes Garcia gives the Lions the best chance to win. To backtrack from that decision and turn the reins over to Harrington would likely prompt "Mooch Must Go" chants from the Ford Field faithful.

Garcia's play seemed to inspire his teammates a week ago in victory.

Yesterday, still playing with an injury-riddled receiving corps that looked like something the cat dragged in, Garcia's play deflated them.

Detroit was good enough to beat Chicago in a "clash" for first place in the joke of a division known as the NFC North.

Two 3-3 teams slugging it out for division supremacy. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue calls it parity. Parody is more like it.

The difference was, Chicago's defense played true to form, and the Lions were, well, the Lions.

Mariucci can change quarterbacks, inserting 35-year-old Garcia while ruining the psyche of the 27-year-old Harrington.

He can hire a new offensive coordinator, Ted Tollner, who, like the Lions' former offensive coordinator, Sherman Lewis, calls plays right out of the Steve Mariucci handbook of conservative football. It's amazing how Tollner, with his reputation for creative play-calling, now prefers swing passes out of the backfield on third-and-long.

After this latest loss, it's high time for Mariucci to stop hiding behind Harrington, Garcia, and Tollner, and take the criticism head on.

It's his football team. His fault.

Fans who lustily booed an inept Detroit offense that amassed 278 total yards, a touchdown and two field goals against Chicago don't have Harrington to kick around anymore. Instead, they directed their venom toward Mariucci and Garcia.

"This team needs to be resilient,'' Mariucci said. "Can it be frustrating at times? You bet? With that said, they're so darn determined to get going.''

Mariucci dodges blame the way his offense dodges the end zone. The next time Mariucci accepts public responsibility for a Lions loss will be the first.

There's no sugar-coating the truth: Detroit isn't getting any better, quarterback change or no quarterback change.

But as long as the Lions play in the NFC North, they have a chance. Playing in the worst division in pro sports has its benefits - even if playing Garcia at quarterback doesn't.



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